By Jacqueline J. Holness
As I grew up in church and became interested in dating, there were several Scriptures that I heard again and again. One was: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, King James Version). This haunted me because it seemed there were way more potential mates that were not Christian than Christian, especially as the years ticked by.
There were a few times I thought I would just have to marry a man who didn’t have a problem with my faith and my church attendance, even if faith and church attendance weren’t important to him. Thankfully I did not have to make that choice and could never imagine doing so anyway. God eventually did bring the right Christian and churchgoing man for me—right to my church!
However, for a growing number of Americans religious intermarriage has become a viable choice.
According to the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, the results of which were released by Pew Research Center earlier this year, “Among Americans who have gotten married since 2010, nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) report that they are in religiously mixed marriages, compared with 19 percent among those who got married before 1960. The rise in intermarriage appears to be linked with the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population.” Pew gathered this data from telephone surveys of 35,071 adults.
The daughter of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, Susan Katz Miller has chosen to raise her children in both faith traditions. On her eponymous website she wrote about how she does not recommend that pastors and other religious leaders try to persuade interfaith couples to choose one faith. “A growing number of rabbis, ministers, priests, and clergy of all religions are beginning to understand that persuasion may not be the best way to support interfaith families, or the survival of religions. And they understand that we cannot simply ignore the Christian (or Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or Pagan, or atheist) members of our interfaith families.”
Miller is a member of the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, a network that hosts various activities such as Interfaith Sunday School for Christian and Jewish families, according to its website. Miller has written about her interfaith story as well as others’ interfaith stories in her book Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family.
Even ministers are marrying outside of their faith. Baptist ordained minister J. Dana Trent is married to a Hindu, who once lived as monk. They met on eHarmony. She shares how they worship together in her blog post “Three Things that May Surprise You About a Christian-Hindu Marriage.” In one month, they attended a United Methodist Church and took part in Hindu food offering rituals.
As this cultural shift is a growing reality for many Americans, I wonder how churches should and already do minister to these couples and their families, even if the churches don’t approve.
Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church pastor Kyle Reese says his church, located in Jacksonville, Florida, aspires to make interfaith families feel “at home,” according to The Baptist Standard article “Unequally Yoked: Navigating Interfaith Marriage” by Ken Camp. “Interfaith couples who attend [my] church want their children to receive real religious instruction, not a watered-down version of Christianity, but they also want the faith tradition of the non-Christian parent to be treated respectfully,” he observed.
According to the church’s website, Reese is also a member of First Coast Connect “God Squad,” a call-in program hosted by WJCT. The squad “is a group of interfaith leaders who provide commentary on local and national issues from a faith perspective.” Reese also noted that while churches may not want to deal with this controversial issue, this cultural shift cannot be disregarded “if they expect to remain relevant.”
Here are some questions Christians might consider on this issue: What is your church’s current approach to interfaith families? What sermons, classes, or experiences can be created to minister to them? What approaches can you use to share God’s love and gospel message with people whose families have mixed religious practices?
Jesus’ teaching to go and make disciples will never change. Let’s continue to show the love of Christ as we interact with interfaith families.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).